If you are tired of visiting galleries filled with works of art created through conceptual exercises, submerged installations shows that seem incomprehensible, landfills, stuffed animals auctioned for 2 million $; if it disgusts you discover at Biennale performance of men who are sodomizing with bananas, to know that canned crap, signed and numbered, are sold for gold and that certain paintings daubed and scribbles are acclaimed by art critics; if you try a deep discomfort in front of the degradation of many museums transformed into supermarket, department store crowded with those seeking only exhibitions-event, invaded by hordes of tourists rude and uncivil, you just need to find solace by reading the writings of Jean Clair, whose essay, published by Skira, has a symbolic title: “The winter of culture“.
We must say that Clair, being a refined intellectual, has nothing to do with most of the critics whose intent is primarily to meet the current fashions and taste. Born in Paris in 1940, Jean Clair is the pen name of Gérard Régnier. A graduate of the Sorbonne in Paris, he studied at Harvard University and at the National Gallery in Ottawa. Insigne, member of the Académie Française in Paris since 1982, he is curator at the Musée national d’art moderne, former Director of the Picasso Museum and Commissioner of monographic exhibitions such as those dedicated to Duchamp or Balthus, or those themed on “Melancholy” or “Crime and punishment”, director of the Visual arts sector of the Venice Biennale in 1994 and of the 46th Edition in 1995.
The furious controversy that kindles is due to his fierce attack, no half measures, against the “degeneration of contemporary art”. How got to write some critical: “suffice it to say that an artwork of Jeff Koons, like inflated balloons, can be listed on more than one of the most significant works of our masters of 500”.
The opposition to commodification, aesthetic and cultural levelling approval to art reduced to entertainment and marketing strategy can not, according to Clair, have as a logical conclusion if not the return to figuration, mystical emotion, to canons of classic beauty.
The denunciation by Jean Clair, to contemporary art, reduced to a mere object of speculation in the hands of a few merchants, cannot, in fact, leave anyone indifferent. He says that today seems to witness the most glaring paradox and cheat. Moreover, just look around at what is happening: in December 2010, in Padua garbagemen collect a “work of art” exhibited in urban road for an artistic event, bringing it to the incinerator mistaking it for rubbish. Aforetime, in Verona had happened a similar fact: housekeeping attendants of the Palazzo della Regione have struggled to wash the floor what was considered by them a paint stain. Actually it was a genuine work of art by Umberto Vaschetto. Simple models, fished out from the water and students jokes are critically acclaimed as works of art made by Modigliani.
But Clair does not compromise and is indignant: “we arrived at the collapse of an aesthetic and ancient culture!”. The so-called artist seems to conceive it as monstrosity, denial, what abjects, result of excrement and organic material such as blood, semen, urine and shit. Artists today seem to be witnessing an aesthetics of disgust, challenge every moral, with a gesture taken to the extreme limit, in the so called performance, often under the banner of lower league porn.
Today’s heirs to Duchamp, as Cattelan, Hirst, Koons, Murakami, the Chapman brothers are heroes of a style that is not supported by any technical knowledge, post-Dadaists not more attending the workshops of the Masters. Without craft, they just study marketing strategies.
After the war, began a dramatic decline, continues Clair, marked by scandals, by permanent revolutions, by the tyranny of a new without source. We are in the geography of the negative. We are in a theater of pantomime burlesque: a festive theater and funereal, venal and mortifying, plagued by blasphemies. The artist of our time is no longer a prophet: he practices the desecration, defilement, the furor of a murderer since the proclamations of the surrealist manifesto where “the simplest act consists, revolvers in hand, going down into the street and shoot at random, as much you can, against the crowd” (second manifesto of Surrealism of 1929).
How to get out of this abyss? Clair has no doubts: rediscovering sobriety, balance, wisdom. Art must return to the universe of beauty and purity. He hopes the recovery of classical rules. His is a radical critic tale, ruthless, designed to expose myths: “in front of me I see only an unacceptable aesthetic barbarization and, before this, it only remains to be reactionaries“.
The writings of Jean Clair set to public attention, calling into question even the world of criticism that honors and acclaims the contemporary artist whose works are incomprehensible jokes daily auctioned for millions of dollars in the name of speculation. Indeed, the more it will be difficult to give a meaning, in the traditional sense of the word, the more will be raised to the olympus of uniqueness and magnificence. It won’t really matter if the explanation of the critic will diverge completely from the intention of the author or give interpretations artist not even imagined.
What you have in front, listed millions, therefore seems to be simply a marketing operation: a world of trade shows, the more diverse and technical, that have nothing to do with the feeling and the pleasure of enjoying a product of mastery, of skill, of the talent and the experience of years of study and hard work to learn. Just impromptu demonstrations, which may be destroyed after their exposure, involving the abnormal market, market promoted by curators, critics, gallery owners who seek to bring skyrocketing the value of trade shows and exhibits for profit.
Contemporary art is really just the story of a shipwreck and a disappearance through its happenings, performances, temporary self-destructive works lasting the length of time of an exhibition? Not the artist skill in a broad sense, not his ability, not his experience and culture, but only the market that decides the value of the work?
Carefully consider these questions because, answering affirmatively, you will end up facing a big bluff: an immensity of junk to throw represented by works now catalogued by critics, gallery owners and public and private institutions, now openly claimed to be part, inextricably, in art history.
Gianfranco Missiaja was born in Venice in 1947. After studying at the Art Institute, at the Venice Academy of Fine Arts and graduated in architecture, he taught architecture and furniture for 21 years in Trento, Rome and Venice. He has to his credit over 75 exposures of his works as well as in Italy, Germany, Austria, Japan, United States, France, Portugal, Spain, Israel, Canada, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Scotland. His publications are available on Amazon.